• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: May 28

Welcome to the latest summary of important news related to the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. I hope you will take the time to read, learn, and stay informed.

PS: Stay tuned for an announcement about big changes in this blog in the next few weeks! You can take a sneak peak here if you're interested.

(As always: I strive to share only articles I find both thoughtful and helpful in understanding the twin crises in the Catholic Church. However, sharing a link does not mean I fully endorse every word in that article. I do believe that reading broadly, from many sources and perspectives, is a valuable way to become better informed and, thus, more able to respond with wisdom and prudence. The top reads below are a great place to start!)


Catholicism needs trauma-informed approaches to sexual abuse

Yes, yes, yes. So many good points in this, especially about the ways that even well-intentioned Catholics need to do better to avoid retraumatizing survivors.

"When a victim of sexual or other abuse shares their experience with a person in a position of trust and the response is to disbelieve, reject, or downplay, then that response can constitute its own trauma. At times, these responses have more long-lasting and significant effects than the original traumatic event. The dismissal can be a worse trauma. Even when that original event did not result in, for example, PTSD, the rejection can result in this...

This, I believe, is the next step for Catholic institutions. In my Archdiocese, professionals with investigations and criminal justice experience have been hired to investigate cases of sexual abuse. This, I believe, is a good thing. Ministerial misconduct cases are not solely run by inexperienced and unavoidably biased clergy anymore. They increasingly involve professionals invested and experienced in ending crime. But this is not enough. Criminality should not be the standard by which we determine fitness for ministry at a large parish. In addition, the criminal justice system has not done a very good job in training its professionals to respond to trauma-saturated situations in ways that are trauma-informed. Dispositions need to be redeveloped, perspectives need to be reframed, and priorities need to be reimagined."

The Woman Taking on Sex Abuse in the Church

Rachael Denhollander is one of my personal heros. Her influence is primarily in Protestant churches, but the dynamics she describes are very familiar to me. I'm amazed at how much she has achieved through her tenacity and courage. This is must read for her keen awareness of how abuse can thrive in Christian contexts, especially when we misuse theological concepts like forgiveness and unity.

*Trigger warning on this one, for sexual abuse, obviously, but also some really awful spiritual abuse and manipulation described in the introduction.*

Question: "What do you think the people who want to do a better job of this fail to understand?"

Her Answer: "Victims and perpetrators are both always watching. Perpetrators are highly skilled predators. They look for dynamics that are going to ensure that if anybody ever speaks up, they won’t be believed. They look for places that don’t understand trauma and abusive dynamics, that aren’t going to bring in outside accountability and outside help. Victims also look for those dynamics. They watch how we talk about issues of abuse, and they know that’s what they would think about me. Victims are always watching how we talk about abuse because they know that’s what they would really say about them."

Knoxville bishop replaced investigator in seminarian probe


"Several sources close to the Knoxville review board say that Stika complained about Prosser’s investigative techniques; one source said the bishop seemed to be upset that Prosser was 'asking too many questions.' Stika confirmed his displeasure. 'I explained to the board that he was asking questions and, and he got things more confusing with the seminary,' the bishop said...

Manning told The Pillar in April that his investigation consisted only of interviewing the accused seminarian, because he was told by other members of the review board that neither the alleged 2019 victim nor the seminarians were willing to be interviewed. He conceded that he had not made efforts to contact them personally. But The Pillar confirmed that at least one of the alleged targets of harassment at the seminary has not been asked whether he is willing to speak with the Knoxville diocese or its review board."


When Michigan Investigated Clergy Sexual Abuse, My Former Pastor was Arrested

Powerful writing from my friend Elizabeth, whose own pastor was quietly removed from ministry while she was the chair of parish council. It took an attorney general investigation for her to learn what had really happened.

"I learned just minutes before the meeting started that our pastor was leaving. The person who shared the news with me was devastated, but didn’t know why he was leaving. We didn’t learn much more during the meeting itself. Fr. Pat announced from a podium at the front of the room that he had asked the Archbishop for a leave of absence for personal reasons and his request had been granted. He told us how much he valued his time at the parish and that he wouldn’t be gone permanently. One of the lay ministers told Fr. Pat that we wished him the best and would pray for him. Fr. Pat left the room, and I never saw him again...

Fast forward to 2019, when Fr. Pat was arrested for sexual assault of an adult. As I read the arrest reports and the official criminal complaint, my thoughts whirled, and I was forced to reassess everything I remembered from that period in 2015. Some things from that time made more sense, and some things were more confusing than ever. His 'leave of absence' was now characterized by the Archdiocese of Detroit as a 'removal from ministry.' It appeared that behind the scenes, the Archdiocese launched an investigation and petitioned Rome for Fr. Pat’s dismissal from the priesthood. We were not told any of this; we were told how to send him cards. I know I don’t know the whole story, but it feels very much as though they lied to me."

Seminaries commit to benchmarks on sexual misconduct policies

I've been following this effort for a while, and it looks like positive progress to me. The most important thing is to create healthy, transparent cultures in seminaries, and these policies may help with that.

"Fifteen prominent North American seminaries have committed to meeting a series of sexual misconduct policy benchmarks in hopes the move will inspire others to follow suit, and to reinforce policies already in place. The five benchmarks were announced by the University of Notre Dame McGrath Institute for Church Life in November. Tuesday, the institute launched a website that details the benchmarks, outlines the seminaries that endorse it, and identifies the team of laity, priests and bishops that collaborated on the effort.

“[It’s important] to be proactive and not to wait for some sort of crisis or problem to react,” Monsignor Andrew Baker, the rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary told Crux. “We’ve got to have our seminarian’s safety first and foremost in our mind, and make sure that the culture and environment of seminary formation is free of sexual misconduct whether there’s a crisis or not.” More info here.

Courageous Conversation: Understanding Wisconsin's Clergy Abuse Investigation

Here's the summary of Awake's recent Courageous Conversation, for those who don't have time to watch the whole video.

"Given the statute of limitations, many of the cases being reported now in Wisconsin may not lead to criminal convictions or civil judgements.

But public accountability is still essential, [Janine] Geske said. 'In working with survivors in restorative justice for 20 years, the survivors who I work with want to see that things are different and changed for the better as a result of what they’ve been through,' she added. They want to see structural and cultural change in the Church, and to be supported in their healing. 'There are other things we as a community can do for survivors,' she added, 'and we need to do it as Catholics.'"

Conference will examine sexual abuse of young deaf Catholics

It is so sad that this discussion is necessary, but I'm glad that more light is being brought to this topic.

One of the organizers explaining the impetus for this conference: "We didn’t do the encuentros [gatherings] looking for sexual abuse, but when you get young deaf people together in a situation where they were surrounded by adults who were signing and in a trusting environment, these kids would just start disclosing, without any kind of prompting from us...

There wasn’t an encuentro we did where you didn’t have at least two or three young people — boys and girls — at some point disclosing."

Canadian bishops unveil new system to report bishops for abuse, cover-up

Just heard from a survivor in Canada that their bishops' conference just opened their new reporting system for bishops. (In case you missed it, the US system is here -

"At a time when many are eager to see more implementation of Pope Francis’s recent norms for bishops’ accountability, the Canadian bishops have rolled out a new online reporting system where complaints, either of sexual abuse or coverup, against the Church’s shepherds can be made.

On May 6, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops launched a new bilingual service in English and in French for reporting 'situations of sexual abuse either committed or covered-up by a bishop.'... Called the 'Canadian Reporting System for Sexual Abuse or Cover-up by a Catholic Bishop,' the new system is being touted as a direct response to Pope Francis’s 2019 motu proprio, or legal edict, Vos estis lux mundi, drafted after a global bishops’ summit on child protection following the scandal surrounding American former priest and cardinal Theodore McCarrick."

What to Do if You've Been Abused by Someone in a Religious Order

Some words of advice from my friend Emily, who has been through this herself. As I've learned from many victims firsthand, the process of trying to get accountability from religious orders can be even more painful and complicated than with diocesan priests (which is saying a lot).

If this is you - I'm sorry. And if it's not - I encourage you to read this piece, recognize that it's based on recent, real-life experiences, and consider why victims STILL have these kind of obstacles when reporting.

"The first thing you need to do, with any abuse allegation, is go to the civil authorities first. Many survivors do not want to do this because they don't want to bring scandal to their communities or get certain people in trouble. They may not even want to get their abuser in trouble. I understand that. The situation that you're in is a horrible one, and I'm so very sorry. I know how painful this is, and that this likely involves a community of people that you love and don't want to hurt. This is a difficult thing to do. I know. I've been there. It sucks.

But the simple truth of the matter, borne out again and again with dioceses all over the world, is that your diocese, left to their own devices, is likely to simply move the priest or 'take care of it quietly' in a way that still leaves people in danger. In many areas, the civil authorities are more trustworthy than the religious authorities as far as taking records and action."

Pope Francis accepts resignation of Polish bishop accused of cover-up

Small steps.

"Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Jan Tyrawa of Bydgoszcz, the latest bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse by clergy. The bishops' conference said the Vatican had "conducted proceedings on reported negligence" in line with the pontiff's May 2019 motu proprio, "Vos estis lux mundi," and had also taken account of "other difficulties" facing Bishop Tyrawa.

Poland's Catholic Wiez bimonthly said May 12 Bishop Tyrawa had reappointed Father Pawel Kania to Bydgoszcz's Divine Providence Parish after the priest had been detained by police and suspended from another diocese for propositioning boys and storing child pornography on his computer. It added that Father Kania had cared for altar boys and taught religious classes to children at his new parish in from 2006 to 2009, before being jailed in 2015 for seven years."

Jesuit Father Kevin O’Brien, President of Santa Clara University, resigns due to inappropriate behavior

I'm glad this was investigated and that Fr. O'Brien is stepping down. We have to expect better of our leaders.

Also, my experience with abuse survivors (and the vague public statements that often describe their allegations) makes me wonder if there is more that is not being said in this statement. If the behaviors were "primarily" conversations - what *other* behaviors were found to be problematic? Are there stories we have not yet heard? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I think they're worth asking.

"A statement to the Santa Clara community from John M. Sobrato, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, said the investigation by the Jesuits West Province found that the priest had 'engaged in behaviors, consisting primarily of conversations, during a series of informal dinners with Jesuit graduate students that were inconsistent with established Jesuit protocols and boundaries.'"

Vatican Responds to Bishops’ Call to Amend Church Law on Crimes Against Minors

I know this may feel like a lot of meaningless inside baseball, but changes like this really do matter for the way abuse is handled in the Church.

TL;DR - In the new code of canon law, abuse of minors is not approached as a crime against celibacy, but as a crime against the dignity of the human person.

“In the revised Book VI of the 1983 CIC, crimes against minors are considered under a different title than crimes against the obligations of celibacy on the part of clerics. The revised title will be ‘Crimes against the life, dignity and freedom of man’ and will include a canon that is specific to crimes against minors.”

College chaplain removed for inappropriate conduct

Sigh. It just keeps going and going.

"The chaplain of Benedictine College has been removed from ministry. That follows Father Simon Baker’s disclosure to Saint Benedict’s Abbey leadership that he had engaged in what the Abbey calls 'inappropriate conduct with an adult, female student at the college.'

Following the disclosure, an internal review board determined the priest 'displayed inappropriate affection and favoritism' toward the student, with the board recommending 'that certain boundaries be placed on Father Simon, and that counseling and support be offered' to the student.' However, the Abbey says Father Simon was removed from his ministry because it was learned he was not complying with the boundaries that had been set."

Starting the Conversation About Clergy Abuse in Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities

Important writing about an under-reported issue.

"This week’s Awake Blog shares insights about the impact of clergy abuse in the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, drawn from a panel discussion at Fordham University earlier this spring. The speakers said the AAPI community is just beginning to consider issues such as sexual abuse by Church leaders.

One commonality among Asian American and Pacific Islander communities is the honor given to clergy. 'The role of the priest in the majority of AAPI communities is that the priest is put on a pedestal,' said Eunice Park, a pastoral minister based in California who has extensive experience working in Asian Pacific Islander ministry on a local and national level. While this elevated status is common in many Catholic communities, Park said she believes the power granted to priests in AAPI parishes is strengthened by 'the patriarchal nature of our cultures.' This authority can set the stage for a variety of abuses of power, including sexual abuse and financial impropriety, panelists said."

Diocese of Springfield to update list of credibly accused sexually abusers

Hmm... These words are a good sign, but we'll see what action follows.

"'In recent months I have met with many survivors and family members,' [Bishop Byrne] said. 'I have heard from these courageous individuals that the way the diocese responded to their reports of abuse was re-traumatizing and re-victimizing. As your bishop, please accept my sincere apology and my commitment towards working to regain your trust.'

Disclosing additional names, Byrne said, is 'a necessary action as part of fulfilling my commitment of transparency and healing... We owe this to the courageous survivors and their loved ones who have suffered the unimaginable pain of sexual abuse,' he said."

Turning a blind eye: U of U law professor explores bystanders' role in sex abuse cases

This is a different approach to discussing sexual abuse, specifically in an institutional context. We all know that many Catholic leaders - and many of us in the pews as well - have behaved as passive bystanders or even active enablers.

"With emotions ranging from deep disappointment to seething anger and extreme frustration, all [the survivors interviewed] articulate profound abandonment by someone who was in a position to assist them (someone they trusted) in the face of sexual assaults. From the survivor’s perspective, the enabler—both individual and institutional—bears responsibility for their plight and must be held accountable."


As always, I close this blog post with an invitation to prayer. I encourage all of us to bring everything we just read to the merciful heart of God. If there is a specific story that you found moving, hopeful, painful, or unsettling, please place those thoughts and reactions into the hands of Jesus and ask Him what He is calling you to do in response.

I know several survivors that are going through really difficult times right now. Please pray for healing and hope for these women and men, and for all who have been harmed.

God, save your people.

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